By: Sheyenne White
After nearly four days of ballot counting, the United States has a new President-elect. On Nov. 7, the Associated Press called the state of Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, giving him 284 electoral votes, pushing him past the required 270 and into position to become the next U.S. President. About an hour later, the A.P. also called Nevada for Biden, giving him a total of 290 electoral votes. Yet the presidential race was agonizingly close as our anxious nation awaited.
The only certainty was that for the fourth presidential election in a row, and the seventh of the past eight—the Democratic party had secured the popular vote. Only once in the past 30 years have the American people given their support to a Republican: but three times, a Republican has been elected. Despite Biden’s victory, the disparity between the popular vote and the Electoral College has intensified anger for a system that misappropriates political power. The Electoral College awards electors to each state based on their total population; thus, the larger the state, the more electoral votes there are. There are a total of 538 electors and a candidate needs an absolute majority of electors, meaning 270 or more, to win the Electoral College.
The dysfunctionality of the Electoral College can be reduced to its unique winner-take-all approach: in which all Electoral College votes within states go to one candidate based on the state’s popular vote, rather than proportional representation. To clarify, proportional representation is a decision rule in which the share of seats won by each party is roughly equal to each party’s share of votes it received in the election: ensuring fair representation for both white and minority voters. Therefore, our country’s political unwillingness to adopt such an equitable voting framework suggests that the winner-take-all character came about because of partisan power and reinforces a rigid two-party system. Along these lines, it must be noted that because a state’s number of electors is based on their total population, not actual voters, states—operating under the powerful influence of political parties—have no incentive to enfranchise new groups of people or alleviate the difficulties of the voting process for those already eligible. Such blatant inequitable incentives expose the Electoral College as a potent force of voter suppression.
In light of the cries for racial justice that ring across the nation, the issue of race and the Electoral College demands further attention. Deconstructing the racist legacy of the Electoral College requires one to recognize that by giving all states equal representation in the Senate, the Constitution gives greater influence to rural states relative to their population. Wyoming, where 580,000 people live, gets two senators. But so does California, home to 39.5 million people. Now consider that 92% of Wyoming voters are white and 37% of California voters are white but a Wyoming voter has nearly four times more influence than a California voter. This unsettling disparity sheds light on the foundation of racism upon which anti-majoritarian institutions rest. Thus, the Electoral College and the Senate work together to subvert majority rule and give a minority of people the majority of power: threatening the sanctity of American democracy.
Nonetheless, supporters of the Electoral College argue that it protects less-populous states, ensuring that their interests aren’t overridden by states like New York and California with highly democratic concentrated urban cities. However, this argument is tired and banal to say the least. The resilience of the current system reflects the intent to protect and preserve the power of conservative states through anti-majoritarian institutions like the Electoral College and the U.S Senate. The 2020 election reveals the Electoral College’s part in upholding white supremacy by disadvantaging large subsets of the electorate—particularly Black and Latinx voters, whose votes are often overpowered by the will of electors.
With this in mind, the Electoral College is a racist relic and it is time to move ahead with abolishing this outdated system, as it not only distorts popular will but heightens public mistrust in American democracy. Yet abolishing it will be difficult given that the same power it grants to less-populous states is also imbued into the institutions required to get rid of it: the United States Constitution and Senate. Simply put, the requirement of a two-thirds majority within the Senate to amend the Constitutional framework behind the Electoral College would be an uphill battle. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that politicians belonging to smaller states—that reap the benefits from anti-majoritarian institutions—would willingly surrender such political power in the first place.
With this in mind, the Electoral College is reflective of our founding fathers’ fear of direct democracy. In order to rectify this unjust system, we must begin with changing electoral votes to electoral points, thereby rewarding each candidate a percentage of points based on the percentage of popular votes received in each state. Therefore, effectively eliminating the winner take-all system and allowing all votes to carry the same weight. Ultimately, the Electoral College is an assault on our democracy and justice will only prevail once power has been restored to the American people.